Pelicans shootaround update: New Orleans has chance to solidify play-in spot in L.A. this weekend

For the third time over a four-game stretch, the New Orleans Pelicans enter a matchup Friday that carries more stakes than your average contest during the lengthy 82-game schedule. With only six games remaining, New Orleans (33-43) has an opportunity this weekend in Los Angeles to move into excellent position to cement a Western Conference play-in berth, while also increasing its chances of earning at least one postseason home game. In fact, the Pelicans – whose play-in magic number is 4 – could clinch a spot as early as Sunday night, but would need to beat the Lakers and the Clippers over the next 72-plus hours, while getting one assist on the scoreboard (the Lakers face Denver on Sunday afternoon, also in Crypto.com Arena).

But first things first: New Orleans carries a two-game lead into Friday’s season-series finale over the Lakers (31-45), with the Pelicans already clinching the tiebreaker. The clubs will only have five games left following Friday’s meeting (9:30 p.m., Bally Sports, NBA TV, 100.3 FM), which means if New Orleans builds a three-game edge (plus the tiebreaker), the odds of L.A. overcoming that deficit would be minimal. The Lakers also face one of the NBA’s most daunting schedules over their last handful of games in 2021-22, matching up against Denver twice, as well as Phoenix and Golden State (the latter are both on the road).

Other notes:

There may not be a final answer until this afternoon or perhaps closer to game time Friday, but the status of LeBron James (ankle) and Anthony Davis (foot) is to be determined. James and Davis sat out Thursday’s loss in Utah, but ESPN’s Adrian Wojnarowski reported that Davis will suit up Friday against his former team, and that James will test his injured ankle but hopes to also be back in uniform vs. New Orleans. By NBA rule, teams are required to submit their injury report on the second day of a back-to-back before 1 p.m. local time (in this case, that means 3 p.m. Central time).


Offensive efficiency rank: 22 (109.7)

Defensive efficiency rank: 23 (112.6)

Net rating: 22 (-2.9)

Pace: 7 (100.18)

Streak: Lost 4

Go-to guy: In his 19th NBA season, James is averaging over 30 points per game for the first time since the 2007-08 season, when Cleveland’s next highest scorers were Lithuanian center Zydrunas Ilgauskas, Larry Hughes and Drew Gooden (now Washington’s TV analyst). The Lakers have needed every one of James’ baskets this season, going 25-30 when he plays and just 6-15 when he does not (1-7 since Jan. 1, with the only win occurring vs. Portland on Feb. 2).

On the rise: Fifth-year shooting guard Malik Monk has been a bright spot for the Lakers, increasing his scoring average (13.4) every season of his career. The Kentucky product ranks among the NBA leaders in three-point percentage for a second straight campaign, at 40.1 last season with Charlotte and 39.1 in 2021-22. Monk dropped in 23 points at New Orleans in Sunday’s loss, coming off the bench for the 38th time in 70 appearances.



Wednesday win at Portland

CJ McCollum, Herbert Jones, Brandon Ingram, Jaxson Hayes, Jonas Valanciunas

Notes: This group is 6-2 and serves as one of the strongest arguments for a case that the current version of the Pelicans are significantly better than their overall record, which was greatly hampered by a 3-16 start. New Orleans is 11-5 in the last 16 games Ingram has played, including wins at Denver, vs. Toronto, at Phoenix and vs. Utah. … The last time New Orleans swept the Lakers in a season series was a 3-0 blanking in 2017-18, which was also the most recent Pelicans playoff appearance.


Thursday loss at Utah

Russell Westbrook, Malik Monk, Stanley Johnson, Trevor Ariza, Dwight Howard

Notes: This group is 0-1, becoming the 37th different starting lineup the Lakers have used this season. … Los Angeles has the same record as 10th-place San Antonio (31-45), but the Spurs own the tiebreaking advantage based on conference record. The Spurs host Portland tonight at 7:30 p.m., then again on Sunday at 6 p.m. The Lakers will host Denver at 2:30 in a Sunday ABC afternoon game. … Los Angeles is trying to qualify for the playoffs for a third straight season, after not making it for six straight years.



Aggressive, tenacious, opportunistic. Those are a few terms that could be used to describe the Pelicans’ defense while going 2-0 vs. the Lakers this season. New Orleans forced 23 turnovers during the Feb. 27 blowout in Southern California and has totaled 26 steals over the pair of victories.


New Orleans’ 29-assist performance at Los Angeles on Feb. 27 was topped by McCollum and Ingram handing out eight dimes apiece. A month later, they combined for 11 assists out of NOLA’s 25 helpers. Both talented offensive players are shooting around 50 percent in the two Laker games (Ingram 18/35, McCollum 15/31).


Pelicans reserves have been game-changers against the Lakers in both victories. On Feb. 27, the New Orleans bench piled up 41 points and shot 8/17 from three-point range. On Sunday in the Smoothie King Center, rookie Trey Murphy III pierced L.A.’s defense for 21 second-half points, sparking a comeback from a 23-point deficit.